Well obviously, I'm no professional blogger, which is why three weeks later I'm posting about my vacation. But I need to wrap this up, since so many exciting things are going on back here in Boston.
We spent two more days in the Smokies - hot and humid, without a shower, I really felt like we were roughing it, until you end up sitting in traffic on Newfound Gap Road with all the day tourists. Off the roads and in the woods, you could still feel like you were alone, one of the first settlers, or a Cherokee, for that matter.
We made sure to get some more local beer in in Bryson City - Nantahala Brewing Company - and headed North again on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Our next stop was Shenandoah, a place of fond childhood memories. (Though when I asked my mom what she remembered about the park she said, "Rain, lots and lots of rain.") But while we heard NPR reports of massive lightening storms and tornadoes in the DC area, we were blissfully unaware of any disturbance up in the high-elevation meadows of Shenandoah.
While the views weren't amazing, it was the minutiae that drew us in. Our campground at Big Meadows was surrounded by dozens of hiking trails. Within ten minutes of arriving to the park we saw a bear (and ended up seeing 5 on our stay). Our camping site was a 'walk-to' meaning that you had a several yard walk back to the site, which left us blissfully secluded. (Unlike being next to giant RVs with generators in the Smokies.)
I also loved that we had a touch of civilization. Shenandoah was a resort area back in the early 1900's and wasn't made into a park until FDR. So the lodge is still there, it may be run by Aramark, but it has charm.
A big window overlooking the valley is lined with rocking chairs. A bar downstairs featured local musicians at night. And, best of all - wifi. My favorite part was seeing the rows of backpacks outside the fancy restaurant on the ground. This must have been the first nice meal and shower folks who've been hiking the Appalachian trail had for a long time. Part of me wanted to hike the trail, but a bigger part of me wants to use my vacation days in Europe.
We took advantage of the ranger-led hikes, doing three of them. We spent a good time grilling the twenty-something ranger about life in the Service on the way down Hawksbill Mountain. Turns out it's not too unlike canvass directing. Low pay, you have the freedom to get transferred each season, you become an expert in each park you work in, you work outside. It might have been another good career path for me.
Even when leaving, the park charmed us with one last baby bear along the road.
So long, Shenandoah!